What if failure didn’t matter?

It had been far too long since I hopped on my bike, always perched on the trainer in my home office ready for me to get in a quick spin at a moment’s notice. The bike was my first endurance love, the sport which drew me into triathlon and hence running and swimming. But this past year I concentrated on distance running and my miles on my trusty Specialized radically declined. So as I embrace my off-season with lower running mileage, I lined up a playlist of podcasts I’ve been meaning to listen to and got my butt on the bike.

This is how I came to listen to the podcast “Magic Lessons” by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the bestseller “Eat, Love, Pray.” This particular podcast episode was a discussion between Gilbert and Brene Brown, another kickass woman researcher and storyteller. As I was sweating away on my trainer, there was part of the conversation that has stuck with me weeks later.

The two mentioned how much they despise the phrase, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?”

What it should be instead, they said, was “what would you do if failure didn’t matter?”

Wait, let that sink in for a moment.

Instead of framing our dreams as being so important we don’t accept failure, what if we framed our dreams as so important it was crucial we did accept failure?

What calls to us so so deeply that we’re willing to take risks, to face fears and then embrace the failure that comes with following our passion? What would you keep doing even if you failed?

This presents a radical shift in thinking, at least for me. It reframes failure for sure, but it also challenges me to really think about my passions. What brings me joy regardless of the outcome?

I admit that in my short time as an adult-onset endurance athlete there have been episodes where I found myself caught up in performance to my detriment. I became so focused on the outcome I lost some of the joy of the journey. Perhaps I needed to go through that in order to get to this place, a place where my athletic adventures have become increasingly diverse, each feeding the other. I train with a purpose. I set goals. But if I fail to reach those goals? Well, no big. Because the process has become so much fun.

As 2015 winds down and attention turns toward goals for 2016, the thought from that podcast stays with me. What would I keep doing even if I failed? And I’m finding possibilities keep opening up the longer I sit with the question.

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